Cool Hand Luke (1967) is a classic and a must-see, adapated from the novel by Donn Pearce. So is Paul Newman, amazing!
Luke (Newman) gets arrested and sentenced to two years in a rural prison (chain gang) after cutting off the heads of parking meters while drunk - a disproportionate punishment, no?? Incidentally, we do not find out why he did it, except for "small town, nothing to do in the evening". From the start he refuses to submit to the system – while at the beginning his fellow inmates do not like him, they soon start idealizing him and seeing him as a hero. Meanwhile, the prison guards and bosses realize he is a potential troublemaker and start making life quite difficult for him – he then attempts to escape, a few times, up until he is killed by guards more and more under pressure to contain him. The other inmates then remember him, missing him:
He was smiling... That's right. You know, that, that Luke smile of his. He had it on his face right to the very end. Hell, if they didn't know it 'fore, they could tell right then that they weren't a-gonna beat him. That old Luke smile. Oh, Luke. He was some boy. Cool Hand Luke. Hell, he's a natural-born world-shaker.
The ending a is bit bittersweet, and in that we can compare the movie to One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest: one man taking leadership in a group of lost souls, refusing to conform, and paying for it.
We do not learn much about Luke in the movie: he shows irreverence, he is a free spirit, he always grins and never really meets people’s eyes, but we can feel there is tremendous pain behind. He never seems to plan anything, like he mentions towards the end, and seems to be just trying to kill time, first when he cuts the heads off the parking meters at the beginning, then bets he can eat 50 eggs in one hour. He is a role model but his fellow inmates are happy to just watch, certainly not to follow in his footsteps, which makes him resentful at some point :
Oh come on. Stop beatin' it. Get out there yourself. Stop feedin' off me. Get out of here. I can't breathe. Give me some air.
The Captain, source of Luke’s troubles, has this sentence that is among the American Film Institute’s 100 Quotes, designed to show, using Luke as an example, that people who do not fit the mold do not really stabd a chance. It is said twice in the movie, but the Captain, and by Luke at the end. I preferred the latter, as I was slightly disturbed by the captain’s voice, which reminded me of Pee Wee’s !!!! Somehow that killed it a little for me... :)
Dragline: [watching sexy girl wash a car] My Lord, whatever I done, don't strike me blind for another couple of minutes.
Carr: Any man forgets his number spends a night in the box. These here spoons you keep with you. Any man loses his spoon spends a night in the box. There's no playing grab-ass or fighting in the building. You got a grudge against another man, you fight him Saturday afternoon. Any man playing grab-ass or fighting in the building spends a night in the box. First bell's at five minutes of eight when you will get in your bunk. Last bell is at eight. Any man not in his bunk at eight spends the night in the box. There is no smoking in the prone position in bed. To smoke you must have both legs over the side of your bunk. Any man caught smoking in the prone position in bed... spends a night in the box. You get two sheets. Every Saturday, you put the clean sheet on the top... the top sheet on the bottom... and the bottom sheet you turn in to the laundry boy. Any man turns in the wrong sheet spends a night in the box. No one'll sit in the bunks with dirty pants on. Any man with dirty pants on sitting on the bunks spends a night in the box. Any man don't bring back his empty pop bottle spends a night in the box. Any man loud talking spends a night in the box. You got questions, you come to me. I'm Carr, the floor walker. I'm responsible for order in here. Any man don't keep order spends a night in...
Luke: ...the box.